I'm sorry for the radio silence here. While I've been able to post shorter tidbits fairly regularly over on my Facebook page (where you really should go for more timely news and posts anyway) and even my new (relatively) Instagram, the longer and more thoughtful stuff that goes here has taken a backseat to some developments in my professional life both at my day job and as a shooter.
My day job career and my shooting career have paralleled each other in many ways, having started at roughly the same time. Major shifts in the way I've approached my relationship with guns can be almost directly tied to jumps I've made between jobs and roles. In 2015, my life in both worlds has become both more visible and more demanding. I won't bore you with the details of what I do in my office, but on the range, I'm happy and proud to a member of Team SIG SAUER and Team Lucas Oil. I'll also be proudly representing, in no particular order but alphabetical, Brilliant Backstraps, Full Bore Firearms, Grayguns, King Shooters Supply (Better Bullets), and PHLster...a list that is continuing to grow with my team affiliations. I'm really fortunate to be supported by these fine people and companies, and I'm looking forward to doing my sponsors proud. Each one of them puts out products that I'm personally impressed with and would choose to use regardless of sponsorship status.
Enough about me.
Most shooters who haven't been living under a rock recently have seen this video, showing a gross safety violation at a USPSA match.
Clearly, I believe that since the video showed up on the internet at all in the first place, we are better off as a community not trying to delete all traces of it. Social media just doesn't work like that, and we have an excellent opportunity for education here on many fronts. Since we're all just playing experts here on the Internet, I'll need to go back to mememe for a moment and remind you of my qualifications. In addition to being an avid competitor, I'm also a match director, an IDPA Safety Officer, and a USPSA Range Officer.
Having this video out in the wild doesn't just show a huge safety violation. It also shows that we are safety conscious. Witness the almost universal reaction of competitive shooters; I think we're more outraged at what went wrong than anybody in or out of the shooting community. Do you know what would be worse than this video? Not having this video posted because nobody thought it showed anything noteworthy. The reason it's gone viral is because it is so out of the norm, and so far away from what we consider acceptable on the range.
Range safety is an overlapping system so that if one element fails, the others continue to protect you and those around you. That's why we talk about safe direction AND finger off the trigger: if you put your booger finger on the bang switch when you shouldn't, but you're pointed downrange, all you'll do is give a good scare. Here, there was a failure of many best practices. There isn't one person at fault, and not everybody bears a greater or lesser degree of fault. So what should have been done?
- Stage designers and match directors should carefully consider design and construction to maximize safety. I'm not raising a call to go to mesh walls, but you might think twice about that shoot house stage, or build your walls to start a few feet off the ground so that you an RO/SO can do an extra safety check by looking underneath them.
- Range/Safety Officers must remain diligent about visually clearing the entire range before starting a new competitor. The common, and smart, recommendation is to designate the RO/SO as the "last (wo)man off", who will conduct a visual sweep of all areas as they move to the start position. If a stage is very complex, there should be a plan to clear people off the range: who will walk from where, along what path? Who will keep watch to make sure nobody else goes uprange as the range is being cleared? What areas can be double-checked and how, before the next shooter makes ready?
- Range/Safety Officers must remain aware of the entire range as much as possible while a competitor is shooting. Focusing on the gun/muzzle does not mean locking on with tunnel vision that does not take into account what is beyond/behind the muzzle. The scorekeeper can take on some of this responsibility, and you can designate a squad member if there is a shortage on staff. It's not just for shooters downrange, but anything else that might affect range equipment or safety: a prop that has blown over or activated early because of wind, an animal wandering onto the range (you laugh, but it's happened on ours!), an errant brass-picker.
- Other squad members should stay on the ball when taping and resetting a stage, and drag their fellow squad-mates off the range with them. We've all been squadded with "That Guy" who can't resist lagging behind a few minutes for a few extra pieces of brass as long as they're downrange. We all should be reminding him to stop holding up the match and be keeping an eye out to make sure he isn't still downrange when the rest of us are done taping.
- If we're watching or video recording a shooter, we need to remember that we are all responsible for safety and for keeping an eye out for the same things the folks holding the timers and score sheets are. You're watching for your buddy's foot faults anyway so you can razz him after the match, so watch for what's on the range too.
- Some shooters like to visually clear the range as they head towards the start position. You might consider doing that too, at least in bays with compromised sight lines. Or you can ask the RO/SO running the timer if they've checked. And you should remember that while most all of us love that win, we should be paying enough attention that if we see or hear something odd, we can and should stop ourselves. Just like a suspected squib.
And let's remember this: nobody got hurt. It was awful close - far closer than it ever should have been - but this incident didn't result in extra holes in anything outside of a cardboard target. Instead, we've been fortunate enough that it's just a community reset, a wake-up call that our best practices exist for a reason. Not a bad thing to have in our heads as we get into the full swing of competition season. Are you ready to get started? I am!